The Delicious Intangible Heritage of Janakpur's Food

Food Issue 195 Jan, 2018
Text by Astha Joshi

The idea of Janakpur to many brings to mind its tangible heritage, from the wide marbled Janaki temple, to the many undisturbed ponds around the city, except during the month of Chhat that brings with it loud music, rows of offerings and people waiting to greet the sun god.  It's also about the Mithila art, the colorful folk images which in the past few decades have become a symbol to describe its rich culture and tradition.

But there's always one component that's overlooked that describes Janakpur, its food.

I remember how Chhat was more about food than the perfect picture of people praying to the Gods. You can smell the sweetness of melting jaggery, very essential to make Bhusuwa, a sweet made of powdered rice with nuts and other condiments. It takes years of practice to get the round shape right. The idea of molding the perfect round shape is like nurturing strong bonds of your family. Thakuwa made with wheat and jaggery over the base of a leaf shaped wooden saanch.

The evening calls for Ghugni k, an assorted mix of puffed rice, ghugni (chickpea curry), spicy pakora, and potato chops, the ubiquitous snacks to have while you wait for the evening aarti in the Ganga Sagar Ghhat.

While you head out to the market, there's always one stall that'll serve pani-puris beside Ghuvni.

And if you want something sweet, the famous lassis with extra serving of sweet and cherry is a must.

Breakfast are a sweet affair, with warm puffed puri and tarkari with your choice of sweet to choose from the rows and rows of fresh made sweets.

But more than that, Chhat, like all festivals worldwide, means delicacies cooked by the women of every home.  Since Janakpur was part of the ancient Kingdom of Videhas the people are predominantly  of the Mithila group with strong ties to their neighbours across the Indian border.  This is reflected in the food, particularly at festival time.  Dishes like rashiyaw, similar to Nepali keer or English rice pudding, are very popular among the whole family, particularly the children, who relish dipping puris into the sweet mixture while their mothers prepare to make their way down to the ponds in time for sunrise to welcome the sun god at the start of another festival.